Story of Jackie Robinson's stolen statue remains one of the most inspirational in nation

In February for Black History Month, USA TODAY Sports is publishing the series "29 Black Stories in 29 Days." We examine the issues, challenges and opportunities Black athletes and sports officials continue to face after the nation’s reckoning on race following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. This is the fourth installment of the series.

Something that remains remarkable, especially when you look at the ugly divisions in our country, is the way the story of the destroyed Jackie Robinson statue continues to be one of the most inspirational sports stories of the year. Really, one of the most inspirational stories, period.

To quickly recap, a statue of Robinson was stolen last month from a park in Kansas after it was cut near the ankles, leaving nothing but bronze replicas of Robinson's shoes. The theft caused almost a nationwide reaction with people rallying around League 42, named after Robinson, which plays its games at the park.

The burned remains of the statue were later found and police announced the arrest of Ricky Alderete earlier this month. He was charged with felony theft, aggravated criminal damage to property, identity theft and making false information. One law enforcement official told ESPN he believes there will be more arrests in the case.

Paryn Redd and his younger brother, Trason Redd, stand in front of the Jackie Robinson statue at McAdams Park in Wichita, Kansas, before the statue was stolen.
Paryn Redd and his younger brother, Trason Redd, stand in front of the Jackie Robinson statue at McAdams Park in Wichita, Kansas, before the statue was stolen.

Bob Lutz, Executive Director of League 42, told USA TODAY Sports this month that a GoFundMe page, along with private donations, raised $300,000 to help replace the statue and fund some of the league's programs. Lutz added that more donations, including an undisclosed sum from Major League Baseball, might come in the future.

That is all remarkable enough. Then recently something else happened that added another layer to the story.

Lutz told ESPN that the cleats, the only things remaining from the destruction of the statue, will be donated to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum located in Kansas City. The hope is to have them delivered by April 11, just prior to baseball's Jackie Robinson Day (April 15).

Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, said the museum hopes to have a ceremony when the cleats arrive. Kendrick added the cleats could be displayed next to another piece of tragic history.

In 2021, another historical marker, this one in Cairo, Georgia, where Robinson was born, was damaged by gunfire. That marker was donated to the museum. Kendrick plans to display the cleats next to the marker.

"We have a story to tell," Kendrick told ESPN.

So we're seeing with the statue something that started out as a tragedy and might now become a wonderful piece of baseball history. Robinson keeps inspiring in ways he probably never imagined.

And he will probably keep inspiring for decades, if not centuries, to come. If not ... forever.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jackie Robinson continues to inspire through a stolen statue